Views from the viaduct

National Trust
Castlefield Viaduct transformed with a new narrative and visual identity
Interpretation strategy, copywriting, visual identity, installation

After 50 years sitting disused in the centre of Manchester, the National Trust has brought new life to Castlefield Viaduct. It’s been transformed into a green oasis for the people of Manchester. 

Creative Concern was commissioned by the National Trust to develop the interpretation strategy for the viaduct. The overarching concept, ‘Views from the viaduct’, invites visitors to look to the past, contemplate the future, and feedback on what they would like to see from the space.

Following interviews with people in the community, discussion topics were chosen to be centered around three themes – the viaduct’s potential; connections to the city’s heritage; and the power of nature. These themes were the building blocks of a narrative to tell a story of the viaduct’s past present and future. A story now told by the interpretation panels in the space.

Collaboration was key to the success of the project. Creative Concern pulled together a partnership of three creative agencies to collaborate on the signage strategy and visual identity for the viaduct. Creative Concern’s strong experience in developing strategies and narrative combined with O Street’s design and wayfinding track-record and Stuco’s expertise in bringing creative ideas to life.

O Street developed a visual response to the narrative centred around a core illustrated collage piece to capture Castlefield Viaduct’s place in Manchester – people, architecture and botanical elements all come together in an engaging ‘view’.

Josephine Hicks, a designer and painter known or her large scale ‘pop botanical’ murals, worked with O Street to create a dynamic illustrated collage. As Jo worked on some of the illustrative elements, O Street drew inspiration from local heritage and architecture to create a Castlefield Viaduct colour palette. Combining National Trust brand colours of navy and rust red with a bright teal, subtly referencing the historical Manchester Tramway livery colours.

3D design experts Stuco curated the viaduct’s wayfinding and interpretation, creating a visitor experience built upon the engagement strategy, narrative, and visual identity.

Large drop banners hang from lift shafts and finger post signs are scattered across the city, helping direct people to the site. A takeover of Deansgate-Castlefield tram stop gives immediate impact upon arrival to helps visitors realise that they are in the right place.

As visitors explore the viaduct they encounter graphic interpretation boards displaying stories that look to the past, present and future of the city. The boards are designed as a modular system, with individual panels hung on ‘railway track’ style brackets. This creates a dynamic and flexible system, allowing panels to be updated as the messaging develops in time.

Smaller signs are peppered across the viaduct, asking visitors to contemplate and share their views. The strength of the visual identity can be fully appreciated in the form of bold, illustrative, vinyl wraps, offering a charming new look to the National Trust’s entrance gate, toilet blocks and welcome kiosk.

On early site visits it became clear that the viaduct – positioned right above tramlines, trainlines, car parks and canals – had quite high levels of noise. The team were able to exploit the well-trodden adage ‘the solution is in the problem’, inviting soundscape artist Tommy Perman to turn the viaduct itself into a musical instrument. 

Taking sounds recorded on site, birdsong from species that can be found nearby, and mill sounds recorded at Quarry Bank, Tommy was struck by the similarities between the industrial sounds and the sound of nature.

Tommy created a wonderful soundscape that reflects the viaduct’s industrial past and greener future. The two-minute musical score is played on a seamless loop through speakers hidden in the viaduct’s gardens, inviting visitors to take a moment to sit back and reflect on the viaduct’s past, present and future.

As visitors draw to the end of the viaduct – which ends in an event space overlooking a section of viaduct that lies untouched  – they are asked to consider and feedback on the question, “what could this place become?”.

All photography copyright Jill Jennings.

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